The Browns finally get to play a home game Sunday after playing in Cleveland once over the past five weeks. When they play host to the Rams, they will do so desperate to improve a struggling run offense.
Peyton Hillis, who a year ago rushed for 1,177 yards, has missed three straight games because of a hamstring injury and is unlikely to recover before the Browns play the Rams.
Playing without Hillis would be challenge enough, but his backup, Montario Hardesty, is still recovering from a partially torn calf muscle. Neither player made the trip to Houston.
"It's a game where you have injuries," coach Pat Shurmur said. "You try to fight back from them, and that's what we all try to do. At this point though, unfortunately, if (Hillis) isn't ready to go, we just move on."
The torn calf muscle Hardesty is healing from is minor compared to the torn left ACL he suffered in August 2010. The earlier injury required major surgery and forced him to miss his entire rookie year. Recovering from the calf injury requires rest.
"I didn't know you could strain your calf," Hardesty said. "I thought your calf was always tight. It's not anything like the knee injury, and it's something that I can come back from this year. Now my focus is treatment, treatment, treatment, and getting back ready to play."
Hardesty leads the Browns with 244 yards rushing.
The Browns will use Chris Ogbonnaya and Thomas Clayton as their running backs against the Rams, just as they did against the Texans. Neither player was with the Browns five games into the season. Ogbonnaya and Clayton combined for 38 yards on 18 carries in the Browns' 30-12 loss to the Texans.
Houston tested the Browns with a heavy dose of blitzing. It could be the same thing for Colt McCoy on Sunday from the Rams.
"If you want to be a successful back in this league, you have to be able to pick up the blitz and catch the ball out of the backfield," Clayton said. "It's something I feel like I do well. It's something I'll be looking to do this week."
The problems at running back aren't helping the Browns solve a bigger issue: slow starts in the first quarter. For most of the season, the offense has vowed to get off to a faster start, only to come up empty.
The Browns, outscored 58-6 in the first quarter through eight games, have not created the deficit on offense alone. The defense vowed to get off to a better start against the Texans so the offense wouldn't have to play catch-up most of the game, but Cleveland trailed 14-0 less than eight minutes into the game. Houston opened with an 82-yard scoring drive, then added a 28-yard TD march after an Ogbonnaya fumble on the Browns' first offensive play.
"We're playing well defensively for the most part, but we can still get better," safety Mike Adams said. "We can definitely get better tackling, reading and starting faster. As a team, you want to start fast, but I'm just speaking for the defense."
BY THE NUMBERS: Quarterback Colt McCoy has been hit 52 times in eight games. He was sacked four times Sunday.